The Signals Are Talking: Say WHAT?
A futurist shares her secrets and challenges me to look beyond the box
Had I not heard Amy Webb on an episode of This Week in Tech, I would never have picked up her book, The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream (2016, PublicAffairs).
Had the first chapter not hooked me, I probably would have taken it back to the library and devoured one of the many novels on my pile.
What Webb proposes throughout the book is…well, it’s fun.
Especially if you’re a techie.
Even if you’re not a techie.
She begins, simply enough:
The future doesn’t simply arrive fully formed overnight, but emerges step by step. It first appears at seemingly random points around the fringes of society, never in the mainstream. Without context, these points can appear disparate, unrelated, and hard to connect meaningfully. But over time they fit into patterns and come into focus as a full-blown trend: a convergence of multiple points that reveal a direction or tendency, a force that combines some human need and new enabling technology that will shape the future.
She goes on to describe an experience she had in Japan in 1997, where she was first introduced to mobile web browsing…long before it became something so ordinary that we barely talk about it (unless you’re in marketing, and then you obsess over mobile).
Signals is a book that, Webb explains, “contains a method for seeing the future. It’s an organized approach that, if followed, will advance your understanding of the world as it is changing.” She spends the next 10 chapters and 250-plus pages teaching you the forecasting techniques she uses in her career as a futurist.
Though no part of this book claims to be Catholic — indeed, is not at all Catholic — I couldn’t help but think that many of us — perhaps, in fact, all of us — should be reading books like this.
Webb’s approach is one of strategic thinking, a kind of thinking that the entrepreneurs and business leaders I’ve been working with for over two decades have long embraced. She’s outlined the exact steps she uses, and peppers the book with examples from both a looking-backward and a looking-forward approach.
I couldn’t help but smile as she outlined the cases for flying cars, or rather, the cases for not having flying cars. It became a shorthand conversation throughout the book, and I can’t say I minded it.
Do flying cars matter? No, not really. But how often are we blinded by the glitter of something like flying cars and lose sight of the very boring, very real, very obvious changes in the world?
Webb is challenging readers to see the future not as a big scary place, but as the next moment from now. The future, as it turns out, is something that’s not so shocking.
It makes me think, in fact, of a current commercial from CarMax. “I know this because I’m from seven days in the future,” the man on the screen says. At the end, after his monologue, he admits, “It’s pretty much the same,” referring to the differences between seven days and now.
But changes happen in small increments, gathering steam until it seems they suddenly take over: had you heard the “signals” that Webb teaches you to pay attention to, you would not have been so shocked (though you may be just as delighted).
How can we apply this to our lives as Catholics? I can think of about 1000 ways, and rather than outline them, I would rather recommend this book and challenge you to read it for yourself. You might even want to highlight it, dog ear it, and come back to it later.